South: ‘We’ll do better.’ Commissioners confronted about fairgrounds bid process

Uinta County Commission Chair Eric South listens as Rex Snyder with SCI Lyman explains why he believes commissioners made a mistake in awarding the bid for replacement of livestock gates to Murdoch’s Ranch & Home Supply instead of SCI. Snyder said he believes the bid process was decided before the bids were even solicited.(HERALD PHOTO/Sheila McGuire)

EVANSTON — The Uinta County Commissioners made a mistake when they voted to award the bid for a project to replace the panels, gates, posts and connectors for the stock gates at the Uinta County fairgrounds to a company other than the lowest bidder. At least that is the contention of Rex Snyder of SCI in Lyman, the company that submitted the lowest bid, who addressed commissioners at the regular meeting on Tuesday, April 16. 

At the April 2 meeting, commissioners voted to award the bid to Murdoch’s Ranch & Home Supply, using Priefert brand panels, at a cost of approximately $106,000. However, SCI had submitted a bid for approximately $71,000, which was not accepted due to commissioners’ stated concerns about the quality of the 2W brand panels that were part of the SCI bid. 

At the April 16 meeting, Snyder said SCI should have been afforded the opportunity to address any concerns, especially when the bid was two-thirds the cost, and said if he had known about those concerns, he would have been in attendance at the April 2 meeting to defend the company and the quality of the 2W panels. Snyder said he feels the comments made by commissioners about SCI and 2W, which were reported in the Herald, were not only ill-informed, but slanderous. 

“I think you were ill-informed, and I think you made a mistake buying an inferior product and costing us taxpayers $35,500 more than you should have spent,” said Snyder. 

Cody Howerton, U.S. sales representative for 2W Livestock Equipment, was also in attendance at this week’s meeting. Howerton said he had been following the media stories about the stock gates at the fairgrounds, including a story about how the committee pursuing the project had been over-eager initially in seeking a company to perform the work before being informed a formal bidding process needed to be followed. 

“We do bids every day and we lose bids every day, and that’s one thing,” said Howerton, “but to go in the paper saying that my product is inferior and not as good in the long term is really damaging to my reputation that we take very seriously. … I’m not trying to go up against Priefert and I’m not even trying to complain about the bid. I’m just defending my product in this situation because we do have a lot of product in this county.” 

Howerton asked Uinta County Attorney Loretta Howieson-Kallas about whether the county is required to go through the bid process when a project reaches a certain dollar value, and she said county policy is to go through the process when costs are above $35,000. Howerton and Snyder both said they feel the bid process, in this case, was mostly just for show.

“The part of this where I have an issue,” said Howerton, “is ‘OK, we’re gonna do this bid process but in the back of our mind we’ve already made up our mind.’” 

In response to their comments, commission chair Eric South said it was not the commission’s intent to slander anyone and acknowledged the rather messy series of events leading up to the bidding process. 

“We in no way intended to slander anyone,” South said. “This thing’s been going on for quite a while with these panels. In fact, we all but had went ahead and was going to do Priefert panels earlier on, but we kind of jumped the gun with this committee we had that had gotten the prices earlier on. At that time, we hadn’t, or I hadn’t anyway, ever even heard of you. Then we had to redo it because we had talked to the people, but we hadn’t advertised it the way we were supposed to do it.” 

South also said the committee members preferred the latch system on the Priefert brand panels and that individuals had gone to the fairgrounds in Green River to inspect a system using 2W panels, after which they had reported some concerns they had about longevity. 

Snyder said he believes the inspections done by the committee of systems at other fairgrounds and rodeo systems were inadequate, as he himself had visited sites using Priefert panels that he said showed substantially more damage and rust than any of the sites using 2W panels. Snyder also questioned why site visits to inspect other panel brands in addition to 2W were not conducted by the county. 

Commissioner Mark Anderson said the ad hoc committee that was assembled months ago discussed and considered numerous types of panels the individual members had experience with, but nobody had any experience with 2W panels, which was the reason for those site visits. 

Anderson said among the primary complaints of Snyder and Howell were the stories published in the newspaper.

“I think it’s important to understand that us as commissioners don’t write the articles and don’t push them in the newspaper so how they wrote their article is a complaint to them,” he said. 

At that point, Snyder asked if the quotes attributed to commissioners that appeared in the paper regarding their concerns were accurate, to which Anderson replied, “That is something that we did say, and that was all pulled from the report that the maintenance department sent over.” 

Anderson said he had initially been excited to see the low bid from SCI because he’s fiscally conservative, but in his private business he had “been bitten” by going with the lowest bid in situations when that wasn’t the best option. 

One of the primary areas of concern stated by Anderson was the use of a single pin latch on the panels that he believed may lead to tweaking of the panels. Snyder addressed that concern and said he personally ranches buffalo and uses 2W panels on five systems throughout the Bridger Valley that hold up very well to the “toughest animal in North America.” Howerton added that 2W has a no-questions-asked replacement policy so if panels were to tweak they would have been replaced, a fact he said wasn’t mentioned in the committee’s report on panel options. 

Snyder and Howerton said they had not been given any opportunity to respond to concerns and that commissioners had failed to do their due diligence in thoroughly investigating all bidders and products. Howerton said he wasn’t asking for the bid but was asking for an acknowledgement that mistakes were made. 

“I knew this was going to come back to haunt us,” said South, “because that’s a pretty good substantial amount of money.” 

South said he appreciated what Snyder and Howerton had brought to their attention, but the bid had already been awarded. South acknowledged they had not done their due diligence and had done a disservice to the parties involved. 

South further said he wanted it made clear the commissioners had in no way meant to disparage SCI or 2W. 

“I’ll be the first to admit we probably jumped the gun,” said South. “We’ll do better.”

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